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Reform Party Gathers To Regroup, Still Rallying To The Call Of Founder Perot

By Terry M. Neal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 2, 1997; Page A06
The Washington Post
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Nov. 1  For those who thought -- or hoped -- the Reform
Party was dead, think again: More than 400 zealous delegates and hundreds of
other supporters from every state gathered here this weekend to begin the
formal process of creating what they believe will be the first viable third
party this century.
During a year marked by squabbling and internal dissension, the party's
activists were ending 1997 on a high note, taking real steps toward
recognition by the Federal Elections Commission as a national political
party. The delegates created a constitution and a nominating process and
began the laborious process of drafting an issue platform. On Sunday, they
expect to elect national officers. But perhaps more importantly, they were
hoping to generate excitement by trying to create an identity beyond that of
the party's billionaire benefactor and two-time presidential candidate, Ross
"I think the infighting with the Reform Party has gone on long enough," said
California resident and interim party secretary James Mangia to the roaring
approval of delegates. "Let's get on with building the Reform Party and
saving America!"
But even after this weekend's efforts, building the party will be no easy
task. Consider just the issue of money. Interim treasurer Carl Owenby Jr.
proudly announced to cheering delegates on Friday that the party had taken
in $136,819 in contributions this year, and after covering the costs of the
convention still had $50,000 in the bank.
By contrast, President Clinton was helping the Democratic Party raise about
$3.5 million this weekend.
While Reform Party officials recognize that it will take money to build a
political party, they have sworn off the unregulated, unlimited cash
contributions known as "soft money." Reform of lobbying and campaign
finances and balancing the budget form the centerpiece of the Reform Party's
platform, and party leaders believe its message of grass-roots activism and
ethical politics, rather than big money, will be the thing that attracts
voters. Rejecting soft money is also a bold step toward independence because
Perot, who contributed tens of millions of his own money to get the party
started, will be required to follow the $20,000 individual hard-money limits
mandated by federal law.
"You've got to raise funds, but you can't let special interests corrupt the
party," said David Goldman, an attorney and state party official from
Florida. "We wouldn't want [soft money] from Ross Perot. We don't want to be
beholden to him or anybody else."
Besides money, the party also faces a troublesome image problem among many
Americans, who see it as little more than a mouthpiece for an opinionated,
rich Texan. A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll indicates that 55 percent of
adults have an unfavorable impression of the Reform Party, compared with 26
percent who have a favorable impression, according to an article in Friday's
USA Today.
Many here blamed the media for perpetuating that image, and party leaders
made creating communications and public relations plans a central task.
"This is not Ross Perot's party," said California delegate Jean Nash,
seeking out reporters before the kick-off event Friday. "He's the founder,
but it's a people's party."
Speaking tonight after the group unanimously passed a resolution honoring
him as its founder, Perot said, "If you'd like me to go away, I will. If you
want me to stay, I will." Taking the applause and cheers as encouragement,
he asked supporters to stand. Nearly everyone did.
Perot launched into a familiar speech, criticizing federal workers, campaign
financing, the news media and the tactics of his political opponents, which
he characterized as "lies, tricks and infiltrations."
While this weekend's gathering was relatively harmonious, dissidents who in
January accused Perot and his Dallas-based staff of acting more
autocratically than democratically and earlier this month formed the
breakaway American Reform Party, said the regular Reform Party could never
attract more voters as long as Perot -- whose support dropped from 19
percent in the 1992 presidential election to 8 percent last year -- played
such a dominant role.
Party activists purposely played down Perot's participation despite his
status as keynote speaker tonight. "He's glad to be an inspiration and a
motivation, but he can be in the way of the work we have to do here this
weekend," said interim party chairman Russell Verney, known as Perot's
right-hand man.
The delegates took steps toward creating a nominating process that they feel
will allow for the fair, orderly selection of candidates on the local, state
and national levels. That means, many delegates said, that Perot could
certainly seek the party's nomination in 2000, but he would have to earn it,
just like anyone else.
Nikki Love, 19 and the party's lone Hawaii delegate, said she was excited
about witnessing democracy in action. Love, a Stanford University sophomore,
financed her trip to Kansas City as her schoolmates studied for mid-terms.
"If we want the party to go on, it's going to have to move beyond just Ross
Perot," said Love, strolling the halls of the Kansas City Conference Center,
ducking in and out of committee meetings. "But at the same time, I have an
incredible amount of loyalty to him."

Reform Party Looking To Build Strength In Local Races

By Carolyn Barta / The Dallas Morning News
KANSAS CITY - Reform Party members wrapped up their organizing convention
Sunday, going home to field candidates in 1998 elections and hoping to
become the first viable third party this century.
Their founder Ross Perot, meanwhile, promised during an appearance on NBC's
Meet the Press, "You're going to see a lot of the Reform Party from now on.
We can't sit here and take it any longer."
As for whether he will make a third run for the presidency in 2000, the
67-year-old Mr. Perot said, "I'd prefer not to. I'd prefer not to be in
public life. The only reason I'm doing it is my concern for the country."
Reform members said they're looking beyond presidential politics to a new
mission: building a party from the ground up, which includes fielding
candidates for races at the local, county and state levels.
They ended their inaugural convention here by parading their candidates for
various offices on stage.
Delegates also adopted a constitution and platform and elected national
officers and committee chairmen.
An annual national convention will guarantee grass-roots control over a
160-member national committee, organizers said.

Russell Verney of Dallas, who was chairman of the national organizing
committee, was unanimously elected the party's first national chairman.
Mr. Verney was a former executive director of the New Hampshire Democratic
Party before he was hired by Mr. Perot to head United We Stand America. He
is now employed as national coordinator of Perot '96, a job he will keep
until the Federal Elections Commission completes its presidential campaign
Illinois activist Adam Burczyk staged an aborted campaign for national
chair, contending the party needs a strategy that stresses the election of
Reformers to Congress and other major offices.
For two days, he argued that Mr. Verney "wants to keep us an asterisk party
and then provide a vehicle for Perot to run in 2000."
On Sunday, Mr. Burczyk abruptly withdrew, saying he could muster only less
than one-fifth of the delegate votes.
Mr. Verney favors building the party with local races, where "you can
substitute shoe leather and elbow grease for special interest money,"
instead of "high-risk and expensive" U.S. House and Senate races. "And if
you get into state legislatures, you can change ballot
access laws," he said.
Mike Morris, an employee of Perot Systems and unknown to some Texas
delegates, was elected treasurer. He was unopposed.
The convention adopted platform issues ranging from term limits to
elimination of political action committees, restrictions on the length of
campaign time, a fair income tax system and the reform of Social Security.
Delegates also passed a resolution calling for the abolition of the
major-party controlled Federal Elections Commission. Mr. Perot filed suit
against the FEC last week over his exclusion from the 1996 presidential
He indicated on NBC that he will take legal action Wednesday against
campaign finance abuses in the 1996 election.
Mr. Perot said Sen. Fred Thompson has suspended hearings on the scandals
because both parties are guilty of criminal acts involving millions of
dollars. "We're going to take it head-on and force the issues out on the
table," he said.
On the same Sunday morning show, House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich called
Mr. Perot "a man who has literally bought himself a place at the table."
Mr. Perot invested $50 million to get on the ballot in 1996, creating the
Reform Party.
Mr. Verney told the convention Sunday that the long-term development of the
party "is about more than winning and losing. It's about vigorous debate
that shapes government after the election."
Formation of the third party was praised in convention speeches Sunday by
Democrats Rep. James Traficant of Ohio and Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, two
officeholders Reformers are pressing to join their party.
Mr. Traficant said the two major parties are so much alike that America
needs a third party. With so many Americans distrustful of the federal
government, he said, the Reform Party "is the only hope to generate
excitement in American politics."
Also on NBC, Bob Dole revealed that shortly before the 1996 election, Mr.
Perot indicated that he would throw his support behind Mr. Dole, but within
hours changed his mind.

"He told me on the phone that "I think we can work this out" . . . and I
called him back about three hours later. He had a totally different
attitude; he had changed his mind completely."
Mr. Verney said Mr. Dole's claim "is a blatant lie."
Mr. Perot received 8.1 million votes, about 8.4 percent of votes cast, in
that election.